Canada’s smaller cities have an opportunity to make a bigger economic impact in the coming years thanks to pandemic-driven trends and the federal government’s immigration plan, according to new research from the Conference Board of Canada.
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted migration patterns in Canada, sending people outside of major cities to work remotely even as international migration was stalled, the research organization said in a new briefing.
Many people are still working remotely and some of Canada’s smaller centres have seen an uptick in population since the pandemic began, the Conference Board said.
Before 2020, Canada’s four major cities — Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver — were the key drivers of economic growth for the country and were major beneficiaries of increased immigration pre-pandemic too, accounting for more than 90 per cent of all net international immigration over a period of 20 years.
Over those two decades, these four cities were responsible for almost half of the total increase in national real GDP, the Conference Board said
But smaller centres have tighter labour markets than major cities and could benefit from higher immigration levels, according to the organization.
It argued that more evenly distributed migration would not only benefit smaller cities, but also help ease the challenges in infrastructure demands faced by major centres like Vancouver or Toronto.
For example, Vancouver and Toronto in particular have seen average home prices skyrocket.
As remote work became a more widely available option during and in the wake of the pandemic, many people in major cities moved to suburbs or even further out.
While immigration slowed to a halt in the early days of the pandemic, now the federal government plans to ramp it up, and is already doing so — immigration rose in 2022 compared to 2021 and compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The Conference Board said Canadian municipalities and employers should take advantage of the shifts in population amid the promised uptick in immigration, arguing that attracting people and capital to smaller population centres will increase those centres’ economic potential.